“The original teachings of Jesus are all about wealth redistribution and fighting greed and uplifting the poor,” Olivia Chalkley says. Liberation theology is grounded in that explicit connection between economic justice and spiritual salvation, and, as Olivia discusses, has much to teach us about “the opportunity to create something that resembles the kingdom of heaven here on Earth.”
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Yeah, I feel invested in the project of firing up the Quaker community and really, like, engaging in difficult conversations about our relationship to pacifism, and really challenging ourselves to find that, like, veracity of early Friends that was grounded in what I understand to be a liberatory interpretation of the bible.
A Quaker Take on Liberation Theology
My name’s Olivia Chalkley. I live in West Philadelphia, and I’m the Program Facilitator for the Young Friends of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
So, liberation theology is a Christian tradition started by radical Catholics in Latin America that looks at poverty and the root causes of poverty as stemming from greed, which is a sin. And I think liberation theology is aimed– like, there’s an understanding that we do have the opportunity to create something that resembles the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth and striving to create that by acting as true disciples of Christ, which is acting not out of greed but out of solidarity with every other human based on an understanding of the inherent sanctity of every human life.
Applying Liberation Theology to COVID-19
I think it’s fun to look through the bible and search for passages that apply to either situations right now or that can be used to argue for a liberatory interpretation of Christianity, and I think the project of kind of rescuing Christianity from the ways it’s been used to pillage and exploit seems like really important work to me because the original teachings of Jesus are all about wealth redistribution and fighting greed and uplifting the poor.
I think our current situation, what we’re facing with both the health crisis and economic crisis of COVID-19, I think a lot of things are kind of coming to the surface that have always been there: issues with our healthcare system, issues with our economy that’s entirely reliant on forces of the market and just completely collapses when people can’t go to work, and the people who end up suffering from that the most are people who are already in precarious positions. So I think this offers us an opportunity to see how messed up things are but also how simple it could be to give everybody everything they need because we are the wealthiest country on Earth and there is enough to go around.
Quakers and Resource Distribution
There are all these parts of the bible where people are struggling and have experiences of spiritual surrender where they’re like, “Ok, I give up. The Lord will provide for me,” basically, and that’s not going to work for us necessarily in this time but I think those are important reminders of just like, how there actually is enough for everybody. There is no scarcity and it’s all just about how it’s distributed, and I think it’s our duty as Quakers to really take to task the forces that hoard resources in a way that is in alignment and in integrity with our belief that is like, so fundamental to Quakerism that there is something inherently sacred with every human life. Like, if we actually believe that then we’ll be living as simply as possible so we can give our money to people who need it. That is at the core of Quakerism and that’s at the core of Christianity, too.
- Do you believe we can apply liberation theology to Quaker practices? Why or why not?
- Olivia states that COVID-19, “offers us an opportunity to see… how simple it could be to give everybody everything they need because we are the wealthiest country on Earth and there is enough to go around.” Do you agree with this? If so, what are some concrete steps we can take to distribute wealth and resources to those who need them the most? If not, what can we do instead?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.